Taking a short walk along a nearby creek reveals what could be interpreted as an alarming statement about the value we place on our waterways. More than 75 tributaries that flow into in the lower portion of the St. Johns River are impaired with fecal coliform bacteria, and many more with nutrients from lawn fertilizers and agriculture. Difficult issues plague urban core tributaries like Hogans Creek, starting near UF Health Shands Hospital before running through the heart of historic Springfield and East Jacksonville until it meets the St. Johns River near the Maxwell House building Downtown. Industrial contamination, coal ash, channelization and the loss of marsh and wetlands all combine to make the path forward very difficult.
While the solutions are not quick or cheap, the benefits of clean and healthy waterways are invaluable. Fortunately for Hogans Creek, a group of dedicated community residents and leaders have worked for years to put a system in place for revitalizing the entire waterway. The transformation we can expect to see on Hogans Creek in the next decade will serve as a template for creek restoration all over our city, finally working to remove the ‘Warning’ signs over creeks and rivers that were once prime fishing and recreation spots.Groundwork Jacksonville is a new organization dedicated to transforming neglected land and waterways into community assets. Groundwork Jax is a part of the Groundwork USA Network launched in the 1990s through a collaborative effort between the National Park Service and the Environmental Protection Agency. The ultimate goal is to transform brownfields into parks, gardens, and greenways, restore urban waterways and water systems, create neighborhood infrastructure for active living, and expand local food production. One of their primary focuses is Hogans Creek.
Hogans Creek is one of the most defining features of Springfield. Protecting the historic integrity of Jacksonville during the 1901 fire, Hogans Creek has fallen into disrepair over the last century. With nearly 12 contaminated brownfields within the Groundwork Jax six-square miles of coverage, the group has plenty of work to do. The Groundwork Jax Board of Directors, after hiring an Executive Director, will begin to work towards many community goals. Increasing recreational opportunities, providing more connected green spaces and access to the river are just the beginning. Water quality sampling and monitoring, insect and plant inventories, tree and native species plantings, invasive plant removals, installation of educational signage, and community clean-ups with a focus on youth education are pillars of Groundwork programs.
What Groundwork Jax will ultimately do is work to obtain funds for remediating Hogans Creek. Once remediation of toxic lands occurs, construction of playgrounds, parks, and community gardens on vacant lots and reclaimed lands can begin. Green infrastructure improvements include restored wetlands, tree plantings, bioswales, and rain gardens. In all, if the Hogans Creek and McCoys Creek Greenways were to be completed and tied into the Riverwalk system, it would give downtown Jacksonville over 8 miles of nearly contiguous recreation lands. See the full plan and watch how this tremendous project unfolds at groundworkjacksonville.org.